Stark Sands (left) and Billy Porter lead the cast of drag queens and shoe-factory workers in the finale of “Kinky Boots,” which won last year’s Tony Award for Best Musical.
Sylvain Gaboury/PatrickMcmullan.com/AP Images
If you asked people to free associate with the name New York, it’s a safe bet that “Broadway” would be the first response on many lists. And psychiatrists attending the annual meeting this May will have an embarrassment of theater riches from which to choose when they want that Broadway experience.
First, a brief geographical note—there are only a few Broadway theaters that are actually on the Great White Way. Theaters referred to as Broadway theaters are actually scattered across more than a dozen blocks of Midtown Manhattan from Sixth Avenue to Ninth Avenue and from Times Square on the South to the mid-50s on the North.
Last year’s Tony Award winner for Best Musical is still kicking up its Technicolor heels at the Al Hershfeld Theater. “Kinky Boots,” with its award-winning score by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, a four-time Tony winner, is the story of the improbable partnership between a London drag queen, Lola, and Charlie, a young man who inherits a failing shoe factory upon his father’s death. The hilarious yet poignant show depicts Lola’s efforts to convince Charlie that he can save the doomed shoe factory if he takes it in a new and daring direction—manufacturing outrageous and often kinky footwear that he promises his fellow drag queens will line up to buy. The business partnership turns into an unexpectedly strong friendship with each inspiring the other with confidence and a safe place to be themselves. The choreography is spectacular, and Lauper’s songs ricochet from moving ballads to pull-out-the-stops production numbers.
Another can’t-miss show goes back in time a millennium or so to trace the exploits of Charlemagne’s wayward son, Pippin, who like any teen is bored with his life and vows to find adventure and passion and to make history take notice. Pippin’s story is told by a troupe of actors, and the eye-popping, high-energy revival of the 1970s production has added some spectacular Cirque de Soleil-like elements with acrobatics, trapeze swinging, sword fighting and throwing, and even creative hula hooping. It also involves truly diverse themes such as patricide, magical powers, and the search for a soul mate. “Pippin” has also added two indelible songs to the Broadway canon, “Magic to Do” and “Corner of the Sky.” It won last year’s Tony for best revival of a musical and one for Patina Miller as best actress in a musical. It’s playing at the Music Box Theater.
A new musical that will have special appeal for baby boomers is “Beautiful—The Carole King Musical.” If you are a fan of the songwriter and singer, this musical biography of the artist whose career has spanned more than 50 years and counting is probably going to be high on your list of Broadway evenings. It is at the Stephen Sondheim Theater.
Another new musical with a familiar story line is “The Bridges of Madison County,” based on the book by Robert James Waller. Its previous incarnation was a hit film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. It is the story of the love affair between a lonely married woman living in rural Iowa in the 1960s and the National Geographic photographer who meets her while on assignment in Madison County. The book for the show was written by Marsha Norman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play “ ’night, Mother.” It is at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater.
And several of the musicals with far more than nine lives are still playing to sell-out audiences, so don’t overlook those if they haven’t played in your town or you were too busy to see them. And for the first three, try to order tickets right away and hope for the best! Among these are “The Book of Mormon,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” “Jersey Boys,” “Chicago,” and, yes, the chandelier is still crashing down on “The Phantom of the Opera”—now in its 25th year on Broadway. ■